Writing for Maximum Length
When I finished the first draft of my first book, it was around 100,000 words. I thought this was too short, so I added a bunch of stuff that added 40,000 words. I reasoned that outstanding books should be as long as possible, and I wanted a massive volume that dominated any shelf.
After my additions, I spent a lot of time editing, resulting in 65,905 words. Most of the trimming came from the material I had added, and the rest had no story value. When Michelangelo was asked how he made the Statue of David, he responded, “It was easy. I just chipped away the stone that didn’t look like David.”
Since my first book, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my writing for length philosophy and now understand I made a mistake. Books are about the story; readers will not be impressed when it drones on.
Is there an ideal book length? In my initial research, I learned publishers want 120,000 words for a fictional book. Now, I shoot for this general length at the outline stage. How? I develop a five-page outline, which gets me close to the ideal size.
How many acts does a 120,000-word book need to have? I do not know. I do not even know how many acts my present works have because I never analyzed my books in that way. How many chapters should there be? Chapters break up the flow and give the readers a good point to pause for the evening. As a result, my chapter lengths are all over the place. A good goal is to have a twelve-chapter book which works out to around 10,000 words per chapter.
What if a book comes up short? I think the best solution is to add character and scene descriptions plus additions to emotions and thoughts. I confess I am not good at this key part of writing a story and always enhance descriptions during editing. Is this an effort to make the book longer? I suppose, but that is not my goal. My problem is getting the scene or character visualization out of my head and onto the page.
What sizes of books do I like to read? When I first pop an ebook book into my Calibre reader, it tells me the page count at the bottom. They are ~900 pages. (This is an arbitrary number generated by the reader.) I did a check, and that is around 110,000 words. However, I enjoy Ken Follett’s epic stories, which are 300,000+ words.
It seems that I have come full circle. What is the ideal length? 120,000 words, but never write for maximum length. Wow, a brief article. I’ll write a longer one next time.
You’re the best -Bill
August 30, 2018 Updated August 05, 2023
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